Cold-blooded execution – this is what the camera of the Palestinian B’Tselem volunteer caught Thursday morning in Hebron. Two young Palestinians stabbed an Israel Defense Forces soldier in the city’s Jewish enclave, the Tel Rumeida neighborhood. The soldier was slightly injured; his comrades shot the attackers and injured them. The video begins with what happened next. Soldiers, medics and Israeli civilians gather around. Some helped evacuate the wounded soldier, but no one approaches the two Palestinians, one of whom seemed to be lying on the ground with a head wound. The Palestinian was moving his head slightly, so he was still alive at this point. But it can clearly be seen he already posed no danger. A few officers were talking on the phone; one was issuing orders.
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Only one person, a medic from a settlement, approaches the Palestinian a few times, but not to treat him. Rather, he was busy filming him. Suddenly, a shot is heard.
The video shows one of the soldiers, wearing a helmet, speaking to the soldier next to him. The second soldier shoots the prone terrorist in the head at very close range. No one standing around seemed particularly alarmed by what they had just seen. A car and an ambulance maneuver so as not to run over the body of the dead Palestinian. The camera focuses on the head, blood gushing out and running down the road.
The camera shows us relatively rare and comprehensive footage of the incident, which does not leave much room for conflicting interpretations. It’s all there: the indifference toward the fate of the injured enemy, even though the rules of war require he be treated the moment he no longer presents a danger; the shooting of the Palestinian lying helpless on the ground, in utter contradiction to the values of the Israel Defense Forces; and the Israelis at the scene watching with complete apathy.
To what extent is this incident unusual in Hebron? Palestinian witnesses have said that since the beginning of the current intifada the IDF and rescue services methodically refrain from treating wounded terrorists. They say treatment is given, if at all, much later, by which time many of the assailants have died. There are also numerous complaints of executions by shooting at point blank range.
In many of the videos of these incidents the soldiers and police can be seen to have acted to thwart a clear and present danger. There are also other cases – the killing of the girl with the scissors in Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda market, who was shot by a policeman; the killing by civilians and an Israel Prisons Service officer of an African citizen who was mistakenly thought to be a terrorist in a shooting attack in Be’er Sheva. In those cases it was clear that excessive force had been used.
In many other cases, we simply don’t know. There are no cameras, and it seems that the army is not going out of its way to investigate what it does not know.
A month ago IDF Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot mentioned the case of the girl with the scissors to warn against unnecessary shooting, and was roundly criticized by ministers, MKs and rabbis. Now it is even clearer why Eisenkot was alarmed.
The public atmosphere in Israel being what it is, such an incident should come as no surprise. Politicians and rabbis are repeatedly calling on soldiers and police to kill terrorists without thinking too much about it. In the Jewish settlement in Hebron, where settlers and the soldiers guarding them are in close physical and ideological contact, the problem is exacerbated. Hebron is, after all, the city where right-wing extremist Kach activists hand out trays of pizza as a prize to soldiers who kill terrorists.
The chief of staff, who was once a brigade and division commander of soldiers in the territories, knows how slippery the slope is. Animal-like behavior like that seen in Thursday's incident in Hebron can quickly become the unwritten procedure for units in the field. That is the reason that the shooter was immediately arrested, an unusual move for the IDF these days, and the reason for the sharp public condemnations issued by Eisenkot and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon. Other politicians, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, were not quick to respond.
Popular Internet sites, which usually preach to soldiers about shooting first and asking questions later, were unusually silent Thursday. It’s hard to imagine that their editors were grieving or feeling guilty. Perhaps they are waiting to see which way the wind blows. Meanwhile, we’ve seen no right-wing campaign in support of the shooter.
The lawyer of the soldier rushed to be interviewed Thursday, explaining as expected that his client feared that the prone Palestinian was wearing an explosive belt and could still have set it off. Considering the air of ease among the bystanders in the video before and after the shooting, that claim is not particularly persuasive.
We have not yet seen the bottom of the barrel of this incident. But there is one ray of light: At least the person who filmed it was a Palestinian and not one of those treacherous soldiers from Breaking the Silence.